Those of you who'd like to write stories in
good PIE will surely appreciate a condensed introduction to the most important
grammatical features of PIE. I shall tackle PIE verbs first, explaining the
system of aspects, tenses and moods, and the morphological processes involved in
deriving complex verb stems from simpler verbs, nouns and
(I) VERBS: ASPECT
To begin with, PIE has three verb aspects.
Let us call them "durative", "aorist" and "perfect".
The durative includes imperfective or
progressive meanings (prolonged, continuous or incomplete actions) and may also
refer to repeated or habitual activity. It has preterite forms (a.k.a.
imperfects) and present-tense forms (known as presents, for the sake of
The aorist expresses perfective or
non-progressive meanings (completed actions). It does its job mainly in the
preterite tense, where it functions rather like the English past simple. When
used with non-preterite reference, it can function as the so-called injunctive
(a kind of imperative).
The perfect (or stative) aspect denotes a
present state resulting from an action.
The forms of the perfect are very
characteristic. They usually involve reduplication (with the vowel *e) and a
special kind of ablaut: the stressed o-grade of the root in the singular forms,
and the unstressed nil or reduced grade in the plural:
*le-lóikW-/*le-likW- ‘no longer
hold’ (from *leikW- ‘abandon’)
*me-món-/*me-mn- ‘remember’ (from
*men- ‘think, consider’)
The distinction between durative and aorist
verbs is trickier, since these aspects need not be overtly signalled. Verbs are
regarded as inherently durative or aorist, and the marked (non-default) aspect
is expressed by derived stems.
For example, the root *bHer- ‘carry’ is
inherently durative, so the preterite *bHér-e-t (corresponding to the present
*bHér-e-ti ‘he carries’) means ‘he was carrying’. To express a completed action,
one would use a specially marked aorist form, in tis case *bHé:r-s-t ‘he
carried, lifted’ (a so-called sigmatic aorist).
The aorist may also have a
distinctive stress pattern (with stress falling on the thematic vowel), e.g.
*bHug-é-t ‘he escaped’ as opposed to *bHéug-e-t ‘he was running away’, or employ
reduplication, e.g. *we-ukW-é-t ‘he said’ as opposed to *wékW-t or *wékW-e-t ‘he
Conversely, *doh3-t ‘he gave’ contains an
aorist stem. To express the corresponding durative aspect (‘he was giving’), we
can use a reduplicated stem with *i as the reduplication vowel,
DURATIVE *junég-/*jung- (e.g. 3sg.
pres. *junékti, 3pl. *jungénti)
(e.g. 3sg. pret. *jé:ukst, 3pl. jéuksnt)
(e.g. 3sg. *jejóuge, 3pl. *jejugé:r)
Comments, corrections and questions
welcome. If you like this crash course, I will convert the whole thing into HTML
format and place it in the Cybalist "files" section.